Fueled by a recent surge in violent crime, residents’ perception of the New Orleans Police Department has fallen precipitously in the past year, with the dissatisfaction crossing racial and geographical boundaries.
The latest twice-yearly survey, published Wednesday by the New Orleans Crime Coalition, found that only 48 percent of residents said they are satisfied with the NOPD, compared with 60 percent a year ago.
Fewer than half of the 600 respondents said they feel safe outside their own neighborhoods, a reflection of the fear that has accompanied the spike in armed robberies and shootings the city has seen in recent months.
The coalition noted that “high-performing police departments in other cities typically score no lower than 70 percent on ratings of citizen satisfaction.”
“It’s a significant move in the wrong direction, for sure,” said Michael Cowan, a professor at Loyola University who serves as chairman of the coalition. “We feel confident that it’s a valid picture of how the citizens of the city see the Police Department.”
Public satisfaction with the NOPD peaked at 61 percent in February 2012 and had been holding steady before this month’s survey, which was conducted Feb. 2-5.
The coalition began polling residents in 2009, a year when only 33 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the department.
Cowan attributed the drop in confidence to the NOPD’s well-publicized staffing woes and the spate of violent crime that has gripped the city, even as the murder rate has fallen. The city last year recorded increases in every category of crime except murder, including a 37 percent jump in armed robberies and a 27 percent increase in aggravated assaults.
“There has been a lot of discussion, for months and months, about the fact that we’re at almost a 40-year low in terms of the size of our Police Department, so I think that’s in people’s minds,” Cowan said in a telephone interview.
In a news release, he characterized the drop in citizen satisfaction as “cause for concern but not for panic.”
Asked whether he was discouraged by the survey’s findings, Deputy Superintendent Robert Bardy said he had not yet reviewed the full study. But he said the department would use the survey “as a training tool to make improvements.”
“There was a time when I’d be beating these walls,” Bardy told reporters before addressing the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, “but I can tell you right now it’s a great tool and it’s something we’ll use every day.”
Satisfaction with the NOPD among black respondents — who accounted for more than half of the survey’s participants — fell to 48 percent from 61 percent last year. White respondents were even less impressed by the NOPD: only 45 percent said they were satisfied with the department overall.
“They don’t respond to crimes,” said one middle-aged white man who participated in the survey. “They are disrespectful” and there are “not enough officers.”
A younger black woman said the police had focused too much attention on the French Quarter “because it’s a tourist area.”
“Should be more focus on higher-crime areas,” she said, “and more community policing.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the lowest degree of satisfaction with the NOPD — 32 percent — was measured in the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter and the Central Business District.
Residents of the Quarter have been particularly outspoken about the proliferation of muggings and beatings. The complaints have been led by Sidney Torres IV, the former owner of a local garbage collection company who has blamed Mayor Mitch Landrieu for not doing more to stem crime and hire more police.
The survey, conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, showed that a strong majority of residents — 77 percent — feel safe in their own neighborhoods. Seventy percent of respondents also said they were satisfied with police performance in their own neighborhoods.
“I think they are hard workers who risk their lives for us and are doing the best they can with what they have,” one young woman said. “They aren’t paid enough.”
“You can only do so much,” another respondent added.
Cowan said the crime coalition will continue to track the state of the relationship between the Police Department and citizens, describing it as “a key indicator of the community’s well being.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.